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There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

'Are you sure you don't need any help in there?" David asked when he heard me grunting.

"Nope! I got it!" I called back. He was not allowed in the kitchen tonight. I'd cooked for him only once before, and he often pokes fun at me for my belief that microwaving hot dogs is on par with baking a soufflé. As a special gift for the man I love, in honor of St. Valentine, I would dirty my hands to make a meal that would delight his taste buds and replace his memory of microwaved wieners. I'd only come up with the idea to cook for him a week before. Desperate to find the right dish in so short a time, I turned to my friend Renee, who offered a recipe she thought I could handle.

Now, alone and surrounded by foreign tools and ingredients, I worried that I might have bitten off more than I could cook as I chanted under my breath, "It's the thought that counts, it's the thought that counts." Cooking for David is like dancing for Fred Astaire, and however it translates to the kitchen, I have two left feet. This is crazy, I thought, trying not to gag as I removed raw chicken from its packaging. I must really love this guy. Rather than imagining germs burrowing into my skin, I thought of how I'd spent this day in the past.

I lost my virginity on Valentine's Day. I was 19 and worked in a call center, supervising the night shift. He answered calls in a cubicle, ignorant of my right to a white wedding. Later that night, he tenderly brushed my hair. I hardly knew him -- some tall, punk kid who lived with a bunch of guys in a house near San Diego State. The calendar date was not lost on me, and I imagined we were in love, that we cared for each other. The evening was magical, even if it was half fantasy.

One year I celebrated February 14 by purchasing new tires for my car. While the boys at Sears attached and aligned, I walked over to the mall and selected a sexy red and black bra, candles, and chocolates. That night, I danced around my apartment in my new lingerie by candlelight, pausing only to sip red wine or discover what was inside another nugget from the heart-shaped box. People are really missing out, I thought. There's something to be said for geeking out in style.

David and I had only been seeing each other for four months when we celebrated our first Valentine's Day together. He took me to a fancy restaurant, and I was nervous. Wearing a bright red bustier and uncomfortable shoes, I discovered French food for the first time and have yet to acquire a taste for it.

I knew I'd enjoy this meal I was making, because the main ingredients were chicken and pasta. But despite my short shopping list, I'd spent an hour in the grocery store. Usually when I shop (once every few months), I know exactly what I'm getting -- beverages, granola bars, frozen dinners, toiletries. This was different. I had to select vegetables, cheese, and meat -- fresh foods. There are so many brands of cheese, so many kinds of meat, I found myself frozen in front of the zucchini. How can you tell which one is the right one? Are they supposed to be soft or firm? Do all those nicks in the skin matter?

I called my sister Heather, who learned to cook from her husband. I pushed my cart with one hand as I clutched my cell phone -- my lifeline to the right products -- with my other hand. I'm sure my awkward weaving annoyed everyone in the store (except perhaps for the guy who waltzed up and down the aisles and sang about love).

After I had everything I needed (David had confirmed our possession of butter, oil, salt, etc.), I lingered by the flowers. The roses were beautiful. In all the years I worked in an office, David was the only man who ever brought flowers for my desk. With our work and travel during the past several months, a long time had passed since fresh flowers gussied up our home.

I seized a bundle of variegated reds, tried not to choke on the price, and proceeded to the checkout lines. As I unloaded my cart, I recognized an alien sensation -- I wanted people to see what I was buying. Purchases can reveal much about a person. Mine usually advertise that I can't (or am too lazy to) cook and that my tastes are limited to four varieties of Lean Cuisine. Summation: impatient, domestically challenged woman at whom we should furrow brows and shake heads in sympathy.

I hesitated as long as possible until an acceptable number of people queued behind me. I slowly placed fresh vegetables, chicken, cheese, herbs. and such onto the conveyer belt. Summation: healthy, culinary genius of a woman, we wish she'd invite us over to sample that tasty meal, and look at those roses! He or she (this is Hillcrest) is a lucky person.

I was ecstatic to see my friends Mike and Damon hanging around when I pulled up outside my home. Two reasons existed for my ecstasy: Mike and Damon would help me carry my selections upstairs, and while so doing, they would also see what a wonderful woman I am. (Look at those roses! Are these fresh vegetables? Isn't she wonderful?) "Turn around, don't look!" I called as my posse and I walked in the door. David put his hands up in the air and faced the wall in the front room, where he had been working on his photographs. I thanked the boys and reported to the kitchen. And stood there. For a while.

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